A Commonwealth Realm is a sovereign nation which has Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II as its Monarch and Head of State. These Sovereign nations are also members of the Commonwealth of Nations, which have the Royal line of succession in common with other Realms, thus being titled “Commonwealth Realms”. Since 1992, there are 16 Commonwealth Realms.
There are 15 Commonwealth Realms in addition to the United Kingdom:
- New Zealand
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Papua New Guinea
- St. Christopher and Nevis
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- Solomon Islands
- St. Lucia
- The Bahamas
Relationship of the Realms
The Commonwealth Realms are sovereign states, united only in the voluntary and symmetric sharing of the institution of the Monarchy, the succession, and the Queen herself; the person of the sovereign and the Crown were said in 1936 to be “the most important and vital link” between the realms. Political scientist Peter Boyce called this grouping of countries associated in this manner, “an achievement without parallel in the history of international relations or constitutional law.” Terms such as personal union, a form of personal union, and shared monarchy, amongst others, have all been advanced as definitions since the beginning of the Commonwealth itself, though there has been no agreement on which term is most accurate, or even whether personal union is applicable at all. The United Kingdom no longer holds any legislative power over any country besides itself, although some countries continue to use, by their own volition, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as part of their own judiciary; usually as the highest court of appeal.
Since each realm has the same person as its monarch, the diplomatic practice of exchanging ambassadors with letters of credence and recall from one head of state to another is redundant. Diplomatic relations between the Commonwealth realms are thus at a cabinet level only and high commissioners are exchanged between realms (though all other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations also follow this same practice, but for traditional reasons). A High Commissioner’s full title will thus be High Commissioner for Her Majesty’s Government of (name of the nation). Conflicts of interest have arisen from this relationship amongst independent states, ranging from minor diplomatic matters—such as the monarch expressing on the advice of one of her cabinets views that counter those of another of her cabinets—to more serious conflicts regarding matters of armed conflict, wherein the monarch, as head of state of two different realms, may be simultaneously at war and at peace with a third country, or even at war with himself as head of two hostile nations. In such cases, viceroys have tended to avoid placing the sovereign directly in the centre of the conflict, meaning that a governor-general may have to take controversial actions entirely on his or her own initiative through the exercise of the reserve powers.
The Crown in the Commonwealth realms
The evolution of the Commonwealth realms has led to the scenario wherein the Crown has both a separate and a shared character; it is a singular institution with one sovereign, but also simultaneously operates separately within each country, with the Queen being equally a part of each state and acting in right of a particular realm as a distinct legal person guided only by the advice of the cabinet of that jurisdiction. This means that in different contexts the term Crown may refer to the extra-national institution shared amongst all 16 countries, or to the Crown in each realm considered separately. However, though the monarchy is therefore no longer an exclusively British institution, having become “domesticated” in each of the realms, it may in the media and legal fields often still be elaborated as the British Crown for reasons historical, of convenience, or political, regardless of the different, specific, and official national titles and terms used when addressing the Queen of the citizenry in each jurisdiction; for example, in Barbados the Queen is titled as Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados, or simply the Queen of Barbados, with her full title making mention of her position as queen of the other Commonwealth realms.
To guarantee the continuity of this arrangement after the first realms were established in 1931, the preamble of the Statute of Westminster laid out a convention that any alteration to the line of succession in any one country must be voluntarily approved by the parliaments of all the realms. This convention was first applied to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, and was reasserted by the Perth Agreement of 2011, in which all 16 realms agreed in principle to change the succession rule to absolute primogeniture of non-Catholics. Alternatively, a realm may choose to end its participation in the shared Monarchy.
From a cultural standpoint, the shared nature of the Crown is less clear. In all realms, the sovereign’s name and image and other royal symbols unique to each nation are visible in the emblems and insignia of governmental institutions and militia, leading to the argument that the Crown as a shared link between the Commonwealth realms, with the Crown in right of each country having unique domestic characteristics. The Queen’s effigy, for example, appears on coins and banknotes in some countries, and an oath of allegiance to the Queen is usually required from politicians, judges, military members and new citizens. It is also asserted, however, that the Crown throughout the realms remains essentially British and primarily of the United Kingdom, despite the legal and cultural evolution of the Commonwealth since the 1930s. Indeed, by 1959 it was being asserted by Buckingham Palace officials that the Queen was “equally at home in all her realms.”
Monarch’s role in the realms
The monarch is, in theory, the supreme governor of each of the Commonwealth realms, charged with issuing executive orders, commanding the military forces, and creating and administering laws. However, each country now operates under the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy and the concept of responsible government, meaning that the monarch only exercises her powers on the advice of her Crown ministers, who are usually drawn from, and thus responsible to, the elected chamber of the relevant parliament.
While this remains the case for all the Commonwealth realms, their sovereign resides predominantly in her oldest realm, the United Kingdom, and thus carries out her duties there mostly in person. The Queen appoints viceroys to perform most of the royal constitutional and ceremonial duties on her behalf in the other realms: in each, a governor-general as her personal national representative, as well as a governor as her representative in each of the Australian states. These appointments are all made on the advice of the prime minister of the country or the premier of the state concerned, though this process may have additional requirements. In certain other cases, the extent to which varies from realm to realm, specific additional powers are reserved exclusively for the monarch—such as the appointment of extra senators to the Canadian Senate, the creation of honours, or the issuance of letters patent—and on occasions of national importance, the Queen may be advised to perform in person her constitutional duties, such as granting Royal Assent or issuing a royal proclamation. Otherwise, all royal powers, including the Royal Prerogative, are carried out on behalf of the sovereign by the relevant viceroy, which, apart from those already mentioned, include a lieutenant governor in each province of Canada (appointed by the Governor General of Canada). In the United Kingdom, the Queen appoints Counsellors of State to perform her constitutional duties in her absence.
Similarly, the monarch will perform ceremonial duties in the Commonwealth realms to mark historically significant events. He or she does so most frequently in the United Kingdom and, in the other countries, during tours at least once every five or six years, meaning the Queen is present in a number of her dominions outside the UK, or acting on behalf of those realms abroad, approximately every other year. For this work, the sovereign receives no salary from any state; instead, only the expenses incurred for each event (security, transportation, venue, etc.) are, due to the nature of the Crown in the realms, funded by the relevant state individually through the ordinary legislative budgeting process and, if called for, by the organisation that invited the sovereign’s attendance. These engagements are organised in order for the Crown to honour, encourage, and learn about the achievements or endeavours of individuals, institutions, and enterprises in a variety of areas of the lives of the Queen’s subjects.